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China, the Environment’s Worst Enemy

China Clima

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China is the country with the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the world, positioned also as one of the largest importers of oil, which it has used as an excuse to grant millionaire credits backed by petroleum to oil powers such as Venezuela or Angola, at the expense of the environment.

According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), the Communist Party of China (CPC) formulated policies that “duplicated the old playbook of stimulating the dirtiest and most energy-intensive sectors (construction, heavy manufacturing) to compensate for weakness elsewhere.”

A group of people cover their faces as they walk through a dense smog cloud in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China. (Image: EFE)

China’s growth during the pandemic has allowed the CCP to increase political and diplomatic pressure by portraying itself as a robust country capable of beating the pandemic with few casualties and a strong economy unlike the West.

However, CREA researchers have expressed concern about the environmental cost of China’s growth. Beijing’s competitive key is pressuring Western nations to comply with the Paris Accords while strengthening its ties with sanctioned regimes in exchange for oil and coal.

In contrast, the United States increased energy consumption from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (IEA) Monthly Energy Review.

The IEA study has shown a “continued decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade, as well as growth in renewables, primarily wind and solar power.”

China goes for power, not to save the environment

Environmental analysts pin their hopes on the five-year plan laid out by the CCP in early March 2021. But overconfidence toward China, on the part of non-governmental organizations that influence the West to commit to the Paris Agreement guidelines, fuels Beijing’s propaganda while erring on the side of delivering Chinese emissions reports.

In early 2020, the IEA had projected that Chinese energy consumption would fall by 4% in 2020, implying an even greater drop in CO₂ emissions, positioning the CCP as an exemplar of policies and practices to safeguard the environment. However, contrary to such predictions, Chinese emissions ended up increasing by 4%.

The five-year plan led by Xi Jinping aims for China to be at the top of the economic and political spectrum in the medium term. While China’s bet is on innovation and technology, the Asian giant’s leaders understand that their goals are not possible without dirty sources of energy.

China has halted construction of a dam in the north of the country in order to meet annual Paris Agreement targets, but has pushed its partner countries to build hydropower and increase crude oil production in order to settle outstanding scores with Beijing.

Angola, for example, will begin oil exploitation in a reserve in the Kassanje Basin and the wildlife-rich Okavango River Basin.

“Angola owes more than $20 billion to various Chinese entities, including $14.5 billion to the Chinese Development Bank and nearly $5 billion to the Asian giant’s Export-Import Bank” Reuters reported.

Cheap minerals, another source of China’s revenues

China’s emission reduction plans make it appear that the Asian giant is on a par with Western powers. However, the Chinese economic model is far from protecting the environment.

A man collects coal discarded by mines in Jixi, China. People collect this material to use as a source of heat for cooking in their homes. (Image: EFE)

China’s ambitious mineral model is based on the purchase and conservation of raw minerals. In addition to local mineral production, strategic alliances allow China to acquire minerals at low cost which it then processes for commercial and technological purposes.

One of the main reasons why entrepreneurs from all over the world come to China has to do with this low-cost mineral production. Chinese coal, for example, is quite prized at a time when bitcoin is gaining momentum.

That is why large quantities of coal, oil and other minerals have had China as a final destination in recent years. Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam mainly export raw minerals to China, which is their main export market, with China in turn granting great diplomatic benefits.

Juan Carlos Montenegro (l), executive manager of Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB), and Sheng Yan (r), General Manager of Xinjiang TBEA Group Company LTDA, sign an industrialization plan the Pastos Grandes Salt Flat. (Image: EFE)

In Latin America, alliances have come together rapidly. Chinese companies have acquired mineral companies in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. Brazil, for its part, has China as its largest buyer of Vale’s iron ore. Colombia and Venezuela supply China with oil, with the aggravating circumstance for Caracas that the Asian giant also has access to other of its minerals in exchange for millionaire credits.

China’s medium-term growth drive is also affecting the citizens of Papua New Guinea and the country’s unique biodiversity due to the excessive purchase of timber.

This shows that China’s economic model, coupled with political ambitions, will not allow it to safeguard the environment. Instead, restrictions on the West are giving the CCP a huge competitive advantage.

Camilo Bello is a consultant focused on Asia Pacific studies and has experience in strategic management. He has studied law in Colombia and is currently pursuing studies in language and history at National Taiwan Normal University. He has collaborated with Students for Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan // Camilo es consultor enfocado en estudios de Asia Pacífico y experiencia en gestión estratégica. Cuenta con estudios en Derecho en Colombia y actualmente se encuentra realizando estudios en lenguaje e historia en National Taiwan Normal University. Colaborador de Estudiantes por la Libertad en Hong Kong y Taiwán

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